You could see it in the eyes of the Colorado State football players as the final seconds ticked off Thursday’s 24-21 loss to the Air Force Academy.
Every one of them asked the same question: How did we let this happen?
After a first half in which both the Ram offense and defense played some of their best football of the season on their way to a 21-3 lead, it was hard to decide which of the two played worse the rest of the way.
Quarterback Caleb Hanie, who threw for 252 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in the first half, looked rattled for the first time this season. With the score 21-10 in the third quarter, Hanie threw a pass over the middle intended for a triple-covered Kory Sperry. Air Force safety Bobby Giannini picked off the pass and two plays later the Falcons found the end zone. Hanie finished the day with two picks.
The bad decision was an uncharacteristic move from Hanie, who had thrown only three interceptions coming into the game.
“I thought Kory was going to cross there and he kept going straight,” said Hanie. “I still didn’t need to be throwing that ball though. It’s just a miscommunication, but I have to learn to not make that throw.”
CSU’s sheer dominance in the first half may have actually been a contributor to its fall in the second as they became over aggressive on both sides. Hanie picked apart the Falcon defense so well in the beginning, the Rams may have turned to him too early and often later in the game.
“We should have pounded the ball in and got the run offense going,” said offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt. “We lost a little composure, we have to settle down and be able to protect a lead. There were a lot of problems there at the end.”
The defense looked equally to blame for the loss after a highlight-filled first half. The Falcon rushing game, No. 1 in the Mountain West Conference, had ran for 191 yards but lost two fumbles and went scoreless. Falcon quarterback Shaun Carney had completed just four passes for 41 yards.
In the second half, CSU’s safeties over-committed on the Falcon option, allowing Carney to hit wide-open targets downfield. Carney finished with 102 yards on eight completions, 106 yards rushing and two passing touchdowns.
“We got overaggressive and let him hit some big passes,” said safety Klint Kubiak. “That’s on me. It’s a heartbreaker to have a chance to make a difference and you let guys down. That’s the worst feeling for me.”
After 30 minutes of keeping up with the Falcon’s rushing attack, the Rams looked tired towards the end of the game, unable to force the turnovers that came in the first half.
“I don’t want to sound like a baby, but I was tired out there,” said Kubiak. “We’ve all been tired before though, they handled it better then we did.”
Some players had no explanation for the poor second half.
“I don’t want to make excuses for anything,” said Jesse Nading. “We got out executed and it showed.”
For whatever reason the Rams, who looked as though they would start 2-0 in conference, will now have to regroup after Thursday’s let down. Their next game will set them against rival Wyoming in Laramie. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Football beat writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at email@example.com.
Air Force 24, CSU 21
CSU 7 14 0 0 21
Air Force 0 3 14 7 24
CSU Osborn 60 pass from Hanie (J.Smith kick), 4:36.
CSU Sperry 6 pass from Hanie (J.Smith kick), 6:26.
AFA FG Sasser 23, 1:15.
CSU Hanie 3 run (J.Smith kick), :37.
AFA Kendrick 6 run (Sasser kick), 4:22.
AFA Armstrong 14 pass from Carney (Sasser kick), 2:15.
AFA Thompson 19 pass from Carney (Sasser kick), 11:20.
First downs 16 24
Rushes-yards 27-106 64-318
Passing 282 102
Comp-Att-Int 14-23-2 8-13-0
Punts-Avg. 4-49.5 2-40.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 7-55 2-20
Time of Possession 25:07 34:53
RUSHING_CSU., Johnson III 16-75, Ohaeri 3-16, Da.Morton 1-12, Hanie 6-3, T.Walker 1-0. Air Force, Carney 14-106, Hall 25-102, R.Williams 7-41, Kendrick 7-31, Thompson 1-15, Handley 1-12, McCarthy 2-11, Peeples 1-2, Team 4-0, C.Smith 2-(minus 2).
PASSING_CSU., Hanie 14-23-2-282. Air Force, Carney 8-13-0-102.
RECEIVING_CSU, J.Walker 6-48, Osborn 3-86, Roberts 2-38, Sperry 2-27, Da.Morton 1-83. Air Force, Thompson 4-49, Armstrong 2-29, Dekker 1-13, Hall 1-11.